The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      16th July 2017
Parable of the Sower
Jan Rushton

Trinity 5 Year A 16 July 2017
Isaiah 10-13; Rom 8.1-11; Mt 13.1-9, 18-23 parable of the sower

What do you do when you’re working hard on a project, you’ve had some success, it looks as if all is going to plan, but then, things get difficult, people move on, your careful plans start coming apart? Jesus’ ministry has been gathering momentum. He has healed the blind and the deaf, the paralysed, the dying, an unclean woman haemorrhaging blood, and those with severe mental illness believed to be demon-possessed!
Jesus’ teaching is different, dramatic, life-affirming, and he carries an authority other rabbis do not have! The crowds gather wherever he goes. Lives are being turned around! And many rejoice! But among other rabbis, there is disquiet if not jealousy!
Who is this upstart! His teaching is far too liberal! Why is he bothering with women and children? He’s unclean - mixing with all those outcast untouchables! And he heals on the Sabbath! How can he possibly be a real prophet! Watch out! I wouldn’t go near him if I were you!
And all that Jesus does is twisted and distorted! Despite large crowds still gathering when he speaks, slowly, slowly, those who had at first eagerly followed him begin to drift away. Even it seems, his own family had begun to doubt him! Loving my enemy? I’m not sure about that! Give us the healing! So what does Jesus do as his ministry loses momentum, as his followers begin to fall by the wayside?
Jesus begins teaching in parables. And in Matthew’s gospel he begins with this story of the sower.
Ever pragmatic! Jesus lives within the realities of life. Wonderful things do happen, but life never always goes to plan. Here he tells his disciples: a mixed response will always be how it is! Do not be discouraged! Reflect, learn - and keep going.
In this famous parable, he describes for us, the different groups of people drawn to follow his way. God is the sower, the seed is God's word: both the words of life which Jesus speaks, and Jesus himself, God's Son. And lastly of course, we are the different types of soil.
First the packed soil of the path, hardened by a multitude of experiences. Cynical, this soil clings to what it already knows. The seed of new life is offered, received even, but nothing can penetrate this tough surface. I'm all right Jack, I don't need any of your help, thank you! That kind of thing, well, that's for life's cripples, I don't need a crutch! And all the potential for wholeness of being is swept away with barely a second glance.
There, there's a bit of earth in the crevice of this rock - might just be able to get a toe-hold in this one ...whoops, not too much room here for deep roots!
Well, yes, how interesting; do tell me more. O really, no, I don't think I can manage that, not tomorrow, you see, we always go down to the country on Sundays. But, try me again, I will come with you - sometime.
M'm, yes, good bit of soil here, quite deep in fact, well, I think this might be just the thing. Just a minute, who are you?! You look rather big and prickly! No, you get out of the way, stop shoving me! No, no I need this space! No - o ... O dear, I give up.
Gosh, this looks good! I think this is just what we've been looking for. Yes, of course that's right, I understand now. That fits in, yes, I see. Get me that book, I'll read it. Yes, yes, see you in church next week ..... Ah .... Something has come up, something rather important. O next Sunday, well actually, I’m not sure ... I think I'll have to leave it for now ...
I've never seen such rich brown soil, wonderful texture, plenty of air in this earth. Look at that worm wriggling through it. This really does look promising ...
That was wonderful, please tell me more. I'm feeling a lot more at peace since I started taking time out to pray. And I do enjoy helping with Sunday School -
I'm learning a lot myself! I've been working hard on that command of Jesus to forgive those who upset me - and would you believe it, things are really different at work since I’ve changed my attitude! Being a Christian is making such a difference! M'm, I must invite Julie to come with me next time.
Which category do we come in? Which category would we like to be in?
Well, I guess most of us sitting here do come into this last category, good soil, soil eager to receive the seed, nourish it in our lives, share it with others, bear fruit for Christ. So how much effort and commitment are we willing to put into growing as a Christian? Will we hang on in there when things are not going quite as we’d hoped? Jesus is saying to each of us: don’t be discouraged! Life will always have its ebb and flow! Keep going - and see what happens!
As some of you know, I’m one of many duty chaplains at Westminster Abbey! And I was there yesterday. It’s great fun, and as I also love history, I find it fascinating! Twice a day the duty chaplain leads prayers at the shrine of Edward the Confessor. If you’ve been into the shrine you will know that the space around the saint is packed with tombs! First that of Henry III who rebuilt Edward’s abbey dedicated to St Peter, and dedicating it now to Edward himself. And then buried around Edward’s tomb are Henry’s successors - mostly named after the Confessor! Edward!
Henry was a deeply pious and cultured man, and we owe our gothic architecture to his long and uneasy reign! The kings who followed him were even more battle-hardened warriors, responsible for great violence - and at times sheer murder. But they were also deeply religious, and recognised their profound need of forgiveness. Hence the intensity of their desire to be as near the saint as possible, saint who would intercede in the afterlife on their behalf. They were fervently hoping that there is now, as Paul promises, ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’.
This is indeed what God the Father sent his Son to accomplish. Despite the violence of our living, for those who repent we are promised eternal life!
Being that good soil is also about how we live this life here and now. Jesus has charged us to be building the kingdom of God on earth - as we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us Sunday by Sunday. So are we willing to cultivate the soil of our souls such that in the power of the Spirit we are enabled to do just this? Enabled to grow in empathy and understanding. Enabled to love our neighbour as ourselves - with a passion for their well-being that translates into action.
Our church has some exciting new projects coming up in the autumn. We have made a commitment this winter to take on responsibility for supporting a refugee family, and hosting the night shelter for the homeless one night a week from November to mid-January. I realise this raises anxiety levels for many of us for all kinds of good reasons! But as ever, broken down into component parts, large and small, there is something all of us can manage to offer. And certainly the jobs entailed are varied and numerous. Do begin thinking abut what you could offer. Stepping outside our comfort zone and working together is hugely rewarding. And you’ll find more information in the July magazine at the back of church.
Are we willing to take our place in God’s work that the Word of God’s promises may be accomplished, and that day arrive when all may go out with joy, and return in peace? Amen.

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